NIAC Accuses Apple Stores of Racial Profiling

| Analysis

The National Iranian American Council is accusing Apple Stores of racial profiling in the wake of reports that Farsi-speaking Americans have been refused sale of iPads, iPhones, and other devices. News reports of Apple Stores refusing to sell devices to Iranians and Iranian-Americans started in Atlanta, where a WSB-TV reporter talked to customers who had been denied sales, and filmed (on an iPhone) a retail employee telling a customer that Apple couldn’t sell her an iPad.

WSB-TV News Report

Apple has not released a statement on the issue, and it has so far not commented to NPR, the above-mentioned Atlanta TV station, and other mainstream media outlets looking for comment. According to Sahar Sabet, the Atlanta resident who was refused sale of an iPad, the Apple Store employee cited Apple’s Export Compliance policy as reason for the refusal.

“When we said ‘Farsi, I’m from Iran,’ he said, ‘I just can’t sell this to you. Our countries have bad relations,’” Sahar Sabet told WSB-TV.

Zack Jafarzadeh claimed to have a similar experience, but in his case he was helping a friend who is from Iran buy an iPhone when they were refused the sale.

“I would say if you’re trying to buy an iPhone, don’t tell them anything about Iran. That would be your best bet,” he told the news station. “We never talked about him going back to Iran or anything like that. He was just speaking full-fledged Farsi and the representative came back and denied our sale.”

Apple’s Export Compliance policy notes that the U.S. maintains a complete embargo against Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria, and states that, “The exportation, reexportation, sale or supply, directly or indirectly, from the United States, or by a U.S. person wherever located, of any Apple goods, software, technology (including technical data), or services to any of these countries is strictly prohibited without prior authorization by the U.S. Government. This prohibition also applies to any Apple owned subsidiary or any subsidiary employee worldwide.”

That effectively means that Apple has either been put in the position of enforcing U.S. export bans at the retail level to individuals without any form of authority or due process, or that the company has chosen to put itself in that position. Without word from the company, it’s hard to know which is the case.

In the course of doing so, the company has already refused to sell devices to U.S. citizens of Iranian-descent, and that is bringing negative attention to the company, including charges of racial profiling from the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and the Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR).

In a call for people to write to Apple CEO Tim Cook, the NIAC said, “Broad sanctions make it illegal for Apple, or any other U.S. company, to send products to Iran—even many communications tools that advance the cause of democracy. But now we are witnessing a private company racially profile their Iranian American customers on the basis of enforcing those sanctions.”

The NIAC added, “This is an insult to our community. It is discrimination and racial profiling on the basis of sanctions and it must stop.”

The group also wrote an open letter demanding that Apple end “discriminatory policies,” and put out an advisory letter concerning both rights and obligations stemming from the U.S. embargo against Iran for those visiting from the country or planning a trip to Iran. That advisory letter was couched in the light of Apple’s retail store actions.

CAIR told its members that, “One woman, a U.S. citizen and University of Georgia student, said an Apple employee refused to sell her an iPad [last] Thursday after hearing her and a relative talking. An Apple Store manager reportedly cited a policy prohibiting sales to Iran.”

Writing for Forbes, Tim Worstall asked, “Does Apple actually understand the export restriction laws?”

In that editorial, he said, “Trying to control this at the level of retail outlets sounds, well, very silly actually. But then the last decade hasn’t been notable for people being adult and sensible about security really, has it?”

Apple is going to find that it is in a very precarious position if the company is going to enforce these policies at the retail level. As the NIAC said, “By denying service to Iranian American and Iranian customers seeking to purchase its products for legal purposes on the basis of ethnicity, Apple is harming both its corporate reputation and deeply insulting and hurting the Iranian-American community.”

Above and beyond charges of racial profiling, which will be unnecessarily damaging to Apple’s reputation, these effort are ultimately futile. Any number of American citizens will be wrongly discriminated against, and any number of sales that actually are intended for eventual export to Iran will be sold to people who don’t get recognized.

This is, as Mr. Worstall wrote, silly.

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27 Comments Leave Your Own

geoduck

So far I’ve only seen stories of it happening at one store. One melon-head store manager in Atlanta is neither surprising not does it make a company policy.

If this is confirmed in other stores in other regions and other states then it’s a problem. Until then it’s just one A-Hole who should be out of a job.

mactoid

While not condoning the practice, I am left to wonder if this is a problem with Apple Stores, or a problem with a really stupid and ill-conceived law?

ilikeimac

Bizarre. I wouldn’t have guessed that anyone would try to, or be expected to, enforce international embargoes at a retail store. Similar to the problem of finding and deporting illegal immigrants, how can you identify non-citizens without burdening everyone to show proof-of-citizenship at all times?

It’ll be interesting to see what happens with this, what the law actually requires and how Apple’s side of the story differs from the side reported so far.

Lee Dronick

An individual Apple Store is different from “Apple Stores” unless this is a corporate wide policy. This may just be a case of the policy in that particular store.

gnasher729

There seem to be two versions of the story. The one that doesn’t cause headlines goes like this: Prospective customer says in Farsi that the Mac they are buying will be sent to a relative in Iran. Store employee who is himself Iranian and hears this realises that selling a Mac to someone who plans to export it to the Iran would be breaking the law.

iVoid

If she was buying 100’s of iPads or MacBooks, then I’d see the point of denying sales since they’d likely end up going to Iran.

But one woman buying one?

That’s ridiculous.

Of course, we just have her side of the story so far.

Lee Dronick

If there is an iPhone video of the employee saying that they can’t sell to Iranians why isn’t it being shown?

Anyway, understanding that this story is about selling a lot of electronics to Iran federal law doesn’t discriminate between one joint and bale of pot.

gnasher729

Some quotes from http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/iran.pdf

“As a result of Iran?s support for international terrorism and its aggressive actions against non-belligerent shipping in the Persian Gulf,...”  “..., as a result of Iranian support of international terrorism and Iran?s active pursuit of weapons of mass destruction,...”

“On August 19, 1997, the President signed Executive Order 13059 clarifying Executive Orders 12957 and 12959 and confirming that virtually all trade and investment activities with Iran by U.S. persons, wherever located, are prohibited.”

“Criminal penalties for violations of the Iranian Transactions Regulations may result in a fine up to $1,000,000, and natural persons may be imprisoned for up to 20 years. Civil penalties, which are not to exceed the greater of $250,000 or an amount that is twice the amount
of the transaction that is the basis of the violation with respect to which the penalty is imposed may also be imposed administratively.”

geoduck

Some quotes from http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/iran.pdf

Wouldn’t this mean that it would be an individual, not Apple that would be liable? I mean if a US citizen comes in and purchases an iPhone, or computer, or whatever, that’s a legitimate transaction. If the buyer THEN ships it to Iran then that would be their criminal action. I don’t see it’s Apple’s place to enforce this any more than it was private citizens job to discriminate against Americans and Canadians of Japanese decent in 1942.

But as iVoid pointed out we only have her side of the story. Until I hear more information I’m leaning toward this being the actions of one store clerk and manager with an ax to grind. Apple is, I’m sure, investigating this and will issue a press release shortly.

Jocca

The Apple employee refused to sell the computer when she mentioned that she was buying it for her cousin in Iran, because of US export law prohibiting the sale of computers devices to any country listed as hostile to the US government. The list of countries include Iran, Cuba, North Korea for sure. By not selling the unit, he was doing her a favor because, had she shipped it to Iran, it would have been confiscated for sure. This has nothing to do with discrimination and everything to do with government policy interfering with normal business.

Bryan Chaffin

Lee, the iPhone-recorded video is part of the WSB-TV report.

Lee Dronick

This is strange Bryan. I could not watch the embeded video on my MacBook, there was just white space. It happened last night on a different story. Now that I am on my iPad I can watch the movie. However, last night someone responded that they couldn’t see the video on their iPad, but could on their Mac.

Sara

Here in Australia ( Sydney), a PhD student of Iranian descent was also denied purchase of an iPad last week. This is NO lone incident obviously. As a PhD student of a lab that has MANY students from Iran, and btw, we all have received Apple Laptops, we are left wondering how to travel to Iran now and take our work. Anyone who knows anything about PhD life, must know that our notebook is EVERYTHING, IT IS OUR WORK. Someone us only have this one computer and we almost all have iphones. How can we travel to Iran now? Plus, there are Apple products all over Iran, you can always find anything you want in the black market there. This is ONLY about racism and racism alone. Enough said.

Lee Dronick

Update to my video viewing problem. The culprit is one of the Safari extensions I have installed, I don’t know which one yet, it isn’t Click2Flash. I will see what I can find out.

Edit: It is the Google Disconnect Extension that is causing the video not to show on the page.

Lee Dronick

Sara I am not sure that racism is the correct term, but I get your point. Maybe nationalism or a word like that. The clerk didn’t deny the sale because of Sahar’s race, but because of her nationality even though she is a “resident of Atlanta.” I am not condoning the clerk’s actions, just trying to sort out the story. We need a good legal opinion.

iJack

Tis a pity.  Just this week. Nicholas Kristof published (NY Times) a piece about his 1,800 mile journey across Iran, where he was greeted at every level by nothing but friendship ? gifts, meals, etc.  He also saw Apple signs and resellers everywhere he went.  He opined that the full half of the population that is under-25 are completely secular and are more inclined to party, than to toe the party-line, as it were.  Apparently most dream of emigrating to the US. 

I believe, should there ever be another revolution there, iPods, iPhones, and iPads are the tools these young people will need.

——————-

Lee, keep us posted on the white-space, no video problem.  Although I am on Firefox, I’ve been having the problem for about a month, even on sites I’ve white-listed on both the Flashblock and Adblock Plus extensions.

EDIT:  Sorry Lee, but I hadn’t seen your update re Google Disconnect when I wrote the above.  I disabled it and it seems to have worked.  Trouble is, now Google can track me again.

Ideas?

Jimbob Joealrle

Wah wah effin’ wah. Wait a second. If Sabet is, as he apparently said, “from Iran” why the hell is the NIAC (that’s the National Iranian American Council) commenting on this AT ALL? If it’s happening to citizens (as was alleged) then try this people - SPEAK ENGLISH. Liberal media rubbish….

iJack

why the hell is the NIAC (that?s the National Iranian American Council) commenting on this AT ALL?

What about ”..reports that Farsi-speaking Americans have been refused sale of iPads, iPhones, and other devices,” from the article did you not understand, Jimboob?

rwahrens

But how did the store employee know she was speaking Farsi anyway?  I am not exactly ignorant of foreign languages, but I wouldn’t know Farsi from Afghani, or, for that matter, Arabian!  Besides, the language one speaks is not indicative of nationality, lots of Americans still speak the language of their parents’ home country.

There is something very odd about this story.  I am betting that we’ve probably got some gung-ho store employees or managers getting ahead of the curve somehow.  I don’t see this as something that Apple, as a company, would do.

ctopher

Or perhaps it’s Apple’s way of bringing this to light. We refuse to sell and the LAW supports us but the PEOPLE do not (or maybe they do, huh Jimbo?) Anyway, that’s how laws get changed and awareness builds.

Apple is in the spotlight and thus they have to walk the straight and narrow. Notice that Apple recommended that she purchase the product on-line. That just points out the difficult nature of this kind of law. If what @gnasher729 reported is true, it seems that the Apple Store Employee could be in trouble if the goods subsequently left the country. I certainly would not want to go to jail for doing my job.

I don’t believe it should be an Apple employee’s job to stop a retail customer from purchasing anything. But the way the law looks, it appears that they have to. On-line? They just have to make sure it’s not being shipped to an embargoed country.

On a separate note, I really appreciate the written article. I did not have to view the video to get the story. Thanks!

webjprgm

This is ONLY about racism and racism alone. Enough said.

I really don’t think it’s about racism from an Apple corporate perspective.  It makes no sense that Apple executives would be racist to the point of making corporate policy.  From Apple’s perspective it is purely about complying with the law which states an export ban.

I’m pretty sure Apple can’t ship products to Iran, so that would cover the online store.  Maybe that policy somehow gets interpreted at the retail store level as applicable too, even if wrongly so.

So it comes down to retail employees attempting to comply, perhaps based on a mis-interpretation, using their own personal biases.  That’s where the racial profiling comes in, and in the case of some employees it may be racism.  But it’s certainly not intentional malice on the part of Apple.

I expect Apple to come out with some statement to retail employees discussing racial profiling and clarifying their policy.  I doubt Apple is being intentionally racist at a corporate level. 

If sufficiently pressured, Tim Cook might make a public statement.  He seems more talkative than Steve.  He also seems to care more about Apple’s image and about doing the right thing, as demonstrated by how much he says he cares about workers in China and by the corporate donations matching policy.  So Tim probably does care about avoiding racial profiling.  At least that’s my guess.

gnasher729

Wouldn?t this mean that it would be an individual, not Apple that would be liable? I mean if a US citizen comes in and purchases an iPhone, or computer, or whatever, that?s a legitimate transaction. If the buyer THEN ships it to Iran then that would be their criminal action. I don?t see it?s Apple?s place to enforce this any more than it was private citizens job to discriminate against Americans and Canadians of Japanese decent in 1942.

The claim is that a Farsi speaking employee overheard the potential customer saying that she was going to send the device to the Iran. That makes all the difference. If I go to a hardware store and buy some knives, and then use them to kill someone, the employee won’t be in trouble. If I go to the hardware store trying to buy some knives, and the employee hears me saying that I want to use them to kill somebody, they would be in deep trouble (if it was found out).

Same here. Apple or an Apple employee can’t refuse to sell a device because of your origin or because of the language you speak. But they _must_ refuse if they find out that you are planning to buy this device to export it to Iran. The employee didn’t look for this information. Must be a huge coincidence if you speak Farsi in a store in the USA and there is someone listening who understands you.

To rwahrens: The problem was not the language, the problem was what she said: “I’m going to send this device to Iran”. That’s what’s claimed. Doesn’t matter that it was said in Farsi, that just makes it a huge coincidence that it was understood.

stilep

Pretty silly.  If an american citizen buys an ipad and ships it to a couson in iran, thats on her, not apple.  If the retail store is responsible for what the customer does with their products, gun stores everywhere would immediately close up shop.

iJack

This is ONLY about racism and racism alone. Enough said.

By definition, Iranians are Aryans (Iran means ‘land of the Aryans’), and Aryans are the largest sub-group of Caucasians.

The 2000 U.S. Census (the last on I saw) states that racial categories “generally reflect a social definition of race recognized in this country. They do not conform to any biological, anthropological or genetic criteria.”
- That is basically a bureaucratic way to say that race doesn’t really exist in a true biological sense. Race is a social construct, that’s why “racial categories” are self-identifying.

So, how are this/these incidents are racist?

Pashtun Wally

A lot of irresponsible rubbish here.

I know the store manager in question:  NOT a ‘melonhead’ or any of the other epithets.  A genuinely good guy.

Apple’s agreements with ATT & Verizon (and by extension, the newer carriers) require that the phones be locked to the carrier and only sold for use in the USA.  Apple Store employees are not allowed to sell phones that they know are going to be used in another country.  Doesn’t matter which country.  Yet every employee will be approached several times a day by customers wanting to pay cash for multiple contract-free phones which they plan to sell or give to relatives overseas.

The rules are clear, and the employees are subtly pressured not to turn down sales - and therefore not to dig too deep;  this puts the individual employee in a moral dilemma when a customer says something that changes everything.  What is the right thing to do?

For the employee, probably the worst part is that it places the onus of the transaction and its outcome squarely on the employee.  That can be tough to navigate when you’re trying to hide your anxiety over the issue, think on your feet, and stay focused while surrounded by the amazing din that fills an Apple Store.

For the store, losing the sale is the worst part.

Then something like this happens….

geoduck

I know the store manager in question:  NOT a ?melonhead? or any of the other epithets.  A genuinely good guy.

As the story has developed over the last 24 hours it’s looking more and more like the “racist” and “profiling” terms that originally appeared were quite possibly completely inappropriate. It’s now looking more and more like the store clerk and manager had a very good reason for taking the course they did.

My apologies for using the term and for jumping to conclusions.

gnasher729

Pretty silly.? If an american citizen buys an ipad and ships it to a couson in iran, thats on her, not apple.? If the retail store is responsible for what the customer does with their products, gun stores everywhere would immediately close up shop.

If you go to a gun store and say “I need a gun to shoot my neighbour”, the gun store won’t sell you a gun. If they do, and you shoot your neighbour, and there is evidence of what you said before buying the gun, I’m quite sure the sales person will go to jail.

Here in Australia ( Sydney), a PhD student of Iranian descent was also denied purchase of an iPad last week. This is NO lone incident obviously. As a PhD student of a lab that has MANY students from Iran, and btw, we all have received Apple Laptops, we are left wondering how to travel to Iran now and take our work.

It’s not “exporting” if you bring it back to Australia. It’s exporting if you go to Iran with a laptop, and come back without one. Or if you are a tourist or student or whatever from Iran, buy a laptop in Australia, and take it home and stay there.

I can imagine a conversation: “I would like to buy a MacBook Pro”. “Yes, of course. ” “When I take it to Iran, where would I get it repaired?” “Sorry, we can’t sell it when you intend to export it to Iran”.

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